Ransomware attack targets Commack School District
The Commack School District is the latest target of cybercriminals.
On Tuesday, a cyberattack caused a network outage that shut down the district's main phone lines.
The district posted temporary phone numbers on its website for parents to get in touch with schools and recommended that parents send their children to school with handwritten notes for dismissal changes.
"At this time, we have contacted Federal, State and Local authorities, including Homeland Security, and we are working closely with our Cyber Insurance carrier," said Brenda Lentsch, public relations director for the Commack School District. "Ransomware such as this is a criminal act, and an investigation is currently underway. There is no evidence at this time that any student or staff information has been accessed."
Cybersecurity experts said schools have become prime targets for cyberattacks, especially if they do not have cyber insurance or strong protections against hackers.
"There you are, sitting in a school district. You open up your personal email account, which typically isn't protected against phishing and malware. Then, all of a sudden they have a backdoor into that school district," said Pete Nicoletti, field chief information security officer of the cybersecurity firm Check Point Software Technologies. "So, that's a very common problem."
Ransomware attacks have been on the rise, targeting other school districts, hospitals and municipalities across the nation.
Team 12 Investigates obtained data from the New York State Education Department on cyber incidents at schools statewide and found that the numbers are rising.
In 2021, NYSED reported 71 data breaches at 45 educational agencies, including 39 school districts and four BOCES. The number is a 61% jump from 44 cyber incidents reported in 2020. One cyber incident alone impacted 23 school districts, according to the 2021 Annual Report on Data Privacy and Security from NYSED's Chief Privacy Officer.
In many of the data breaches, hackers obtained personal information through email accounts and gained access to the school's network. Human error created an open door for entry in at least five incidents, according to the report.
In Suffolk County, most services are still offline two months after a massive cyber breach. County agencies have reverted to paper documentation and manually processing forms while the county continues its restoration process. Many outside vendors that do business with the county are still waiting for payment and a criminal investigation into the cyberattack is ongoing.
Cybersecurity experts believe that the length of the cyberattack in Suffolk is a telling sign that the county's IT department did not have enough investment in protection.
"What it means is they didn't spend enough money, they don't have good cyber maturity and they don't have good resiliency," said Nicoletti.